Identifying an Experimental John Deere 8010 Prototype
In this story by author Lee Klancher, a 1959 Model 8010 Experimental prototype and its maker are reunited, 50 years after creation. Read about the design of the of New Generation line’s most powerful tractor, and how the Keller Collection resurrected this historic prototype that was bound for scrap. Find more about this tractor and others like it in John Deere Evolution by Lee Klancher.
When nimble independent manufacturers like Wagner and Steiger built heavy four-wheel-drive tractors in small batches in the mid-1950s, the leading tractor manufacturers had to scramble to catch up. International Harvester outsourced the creation of a large four-wheel-drive to their subsidiary, Hough, and the result was the oversized and virtually unsellable 4300. At John Deere, the engineering team quickly created a four-wheel-drive, and the results were only marginally more successful. Only a few of the models were built and sold.
The engineering team assigned to build the largest addition to the John Deere New Generation line started their task by asking farmers what they wanted in a large tractor. In those surveys, farmers responded that they wanted to plow, till, and harrow quickly (at speeds between 4 and 4 1/4 miles per hour) with the largest implements available (which required 5,200–9,500 pounds of drawbar pull). Labor was scarce, so the machine had to be operable by one man.
Farmers worked large plots of land by this time, many of them separated by miles of roads. The tractor had to be road legal, meaning no more than 96 inches wide with a tread weight limited to 18,000 pounds. High transport speeds were also important, along with a fuel supply that allowed 12 hours in the field. Powerful broad-beam lights would allow farmers to work past dark when necessary.
The machine that emerged would become the largest, most powerful John Deere tractor ever built: the 1960 Model 8010. Four-wheel drive supplied the required power and speed. Maximum drawbar power was generated with 67 percent of the weight distributed on the front wheels. Articulation made the tractor maneuverable in fields and on roads.
This Model 8010, serial number OW41A, was a prototype used by the John Deere Engineering Research Division to display their brand-new line of New Generation tractors. In fact, this 8010 hauled a gift-wrapped 1010 at the New Generation introduction in Dallas, Texas, in August 1960. The tractor also appeared at farm shows and demonstrations across the United States as well as in advertising photographs. Lee Klancher
The bare mounting plate visible on the right fender was for a hand-built rockshaft protractor used to develop the three-point hitch and implements. Note also the two holes in the fender under each rear light. These were drilled at the Deere factory to mount wheel-speed measuring devices. Lee Klancher
Walter and Bruce Keller bought the 8010 seen here from a dealer in New Hampton, Iowa. They restored the machine and, in the summer of 2009, took it to a show in Illinois. After the show, Gerald Mortensen contacted them. He had heard about the machine at the show, and several details about it sparked his interest. He wanted to come to the Keller farm to see it. When he explained that he was a retired John Deere engineer, the Kellers readily agreed.
At the Kellers’, Mortensen carefully examined mounts, gauges, and two loose hydraulic fittings poking from the engine cowl. He concluded that the tractor was not just any 8010, but the prototype that he and his team had built in 1959. The prototype moved on to heavy industrial testing “almost before the paint was dry,” according to Mortensen, and was used for implement shows in Arizona and Iowa. A dozer blade and other modifications helped Mortenson identify it at the Keller farm.
Mortenson thought the machine was long gone. “I last saw [it] with the ATECO low-bowl scraper setting in a bone pile back of the Deere foundry [in the] mid-1980s,” he recalls. “I thought it was headed for the foundry cupola and didn’t expect to see it again.”
How the machine made it from the scrapyard to the Iowa dealership is a mystery. Mortenson, for one, is just glad this historic piece of iron found a safe home.
Former Deere engineer Gerald Mortensen identified a number of distinguishing features on this prototype. The hydraulic couplings protruding from the engine bay were used for a dozer-control system built in March 1961. It was the only dozer control system built. The prototype was converted for industrial use in 1961, and later worked at the Waterloo factory. Only 100 production Model 8010s were built, and all 8010s except this example were converted to 8020s by Deere & Company. Lee Klancher
Operators found ammeters insufficient on a split electrical system. This unique “Bat-O-Meter” voltmeter was installed on OW41Aas a trial and is the predecessor of the modern voltmeter instruments now in common usage. Note the factory inventory tag on the dash. Lee Klancher
The 8010 weighs roughly 20,000 pounds and is powered by a General Motors six-cylinder diesel engine that puts out 150 drawbar horsepower. The tractor was also one of the most expensive mass-produced farm tractors ever built, with a retail price in excess of $30,000. Lee Klancher
The big machine provides terrific views and comfort for the operator. Henry Dreyfuss and Associates designer Jim Connor worked hard to ensure the lines of the machine reflected its operator-driven engineering. Lee Klancher
Dive deeper into the renowned Keller Collection Find more about this tractor and others like it in John Deere Evolution by Lee Klancher, packed with seamless studio-shot photography and endless insights on the design, engineering, and preservation of these industrial icons.